ANDREW NEIL: Our university bosses will rue the day they failed to stand up to the posh pro-Hamas student protestors wallowing in their own stupidity

The more elite the British university, the more stupid the students. Strange, even counter-intuitive, but sadly — even scarily — true, at least when it comes to Israel and Hamas.

As the Mail reported on Saturday, a poll of 1,000 students across 20 campuses found that 29 per cent regarded the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel ‘understandable’ and an act of ‘resistance’, which is bad enough.

But when the results were narrowed down to Russell Group universities, Britain’s answer to America’s famed Ivy League, backing for Hamas rose to 38 per cent, which is shameful. Only one in three saw it as a ‘terrorist attack’.

So many of our smartest and most expensively educated students have failed to understand that what Hamas mounted was an old-fashioned, barbarous pogrom. Perhaps they are unfamiliar with the word and its evil history. October 7 should have educated them.

Hamas killers poured over the Gaza border into Israel with the primary purpose of murdering as many Jews as they could — as happened so often in the past in Eastern Europe and Russia.

Pro-Hamas student activists stage a protest outside the Oxford University Museum of Natural History as the conflict between Israel and Gaza continues

They also took some Jews hostage, so they could be tortured, generally abused and used as bargaining chips.

Last week Israeli forces found the decomposing bodies of three of the hostages in Rafah, southern Gaza, left to rot after being executed.

Many of the hostages and those murdered on October 7 are the same age as the students loudly proclaiming support for their Hamas killers. I doubt that has dawned on them, such is the cocoon of privileged ignorance from which they protest, which leads them, incredibly, to think Hamas are heroes.

‘Resistance is justified’ they proclaim. But they know not of what they speak. Despite chanting slogans now for several weeks from their encampments, many still have trouble telling us between what river and what sea they want ‘Palestine’ to be free. Hint to some who may be misled by their colleagues’ wrong answers: the river is not the Nile and the sea is most definitely not the Caribbean.

They shout for ‘Intifada’ with no idea what that means, oblivious to the death and destruction with which it is synonymous. Like ‘from the river to the sea’ it is essentially a call to eliminate Israel’s existence. Of this they’re a bit more aware: many in the student encampments openly advocate Israel’s destruction.

This is no ‘give peace a chance’ protest. It is posh protesters wallowing in the limelight — and their own stupidity.

As they cosplay in their tents as starving refugees in a war zone, even though they’re on a safe campus and the refectory is just across the lawn, all they’ve created are university skid rows for the perpetually stupid. It would be easy to laugh off — but for the evil it is generating.

The student poll found almost four in ten thought students publicly supporting Israel should expect abuse. Only one-third thought otherwise. Those with such expectations have not been disappointed. The Union of Jewish Students has fielded more than 700 calls reporting anti-semitic incidents in British universities since October 7.

The appearance of the protest encampment at Oxford University follows a wave of similar student protests across universities around the world

The appearance of the protest encampment at Oxford University follows a wave of similar student protests across universities around the world 

‘We have felt isolated, unsafe, targeted, stressed, disappointed, angry and hopeless,’ say Jewish students. ‘Many of us have faced all manner of anti-Semitic slurs.’ Israeli students in particular go in daily fear.

This, in Britain, in 2024. In our universities, which should be safe spaces of tolerance, civilised debate and humanity, not the generators of intolerance and revivers of ancient hatreds.

Yet, emanating partly from our universities, we are seeing an historic surge in anti-Semitism. And, the posher the university, the worse it is.

Over 70 anti-Semitic incidents have been logged in Oxford since October 7. Naturally, university authorities have just sat on their hands — or worse. One academic told students ‘Israel is a terrorist state’. A professor opined October 7 was ‘justified’. Some Jewish students were advised to ‘just leave’.

This at our most ancient, probably still greatest seat of learning. But, again, we’ve been here before: Jewish students weren’t even allowed to study at Oxford until 1856.

Perhaps we should not be surprised. In the early 1930s, when German universities were still the finest in the world, privileged students and academics turned many of these into crucibles of fascism, even before Hitler came to power.

British university authorities will pay a heavy price for their pusillanimity in allowing the poison to take root.

These are parlous times for higher education. The boom is over. Tuition fees for domestic students have been frozen at £9,250 a year since 2017, despite rampant inflation. The well of higher-paying overseas students, who can pay as much as £40,000 a year, is drying up due to a tougher student visa regime.

The Office for Students, a university regulator, warns of a ‘material risk of closure’ for some universities unless they slash costs, share back-office functions or merge. It reports 40 per cent will run budget deficits this year, with as many as 80 per cent in the red by 2027, by which time many might have closed.

This is good news. It is time to pare down Britain’s bloated university sector. When I went to university (a Russell Group one, as it happens, though the term was unknown back then) only 5 per cent of school leavers made it to university. That was far too low. Today it is almost 50 per cent. That is far too high.

Our best universities have been a global success story. But as higher education expanded, too many second- and third-rate universities proliferated, offering pretty worthless degrees, as their graduates would find when they hit the job market. Yet they’ve run up a debt of about £40,000 to gain them.

A media studies degree from a useless university, for example, is about as valuable as sand in the Sahara.

Just before the pandemic I chaired a conference. The star turn was a group of young apprentices from Rolls-Royce and BAE Systems.

They were smart, confident, debt-free and guaranteed a job in a world-class company. Part of their education included a stint at university.

We need a cull of universities and a huge expansion of quality apprenticeships, technical education and vocational training. And less of the usual old-fashioned British snobbery about the latter.

When I hear a cabinet minister boasting that his daughter is doing a Rolls-Royce apprenticeship rather than politics, philosophy and economics at Oxford then I know we will have turned a corner.

The reputational damage the universities are inflicting on themselves will help.

In America, where the pro-Hamas encampments began, it is open season on the Ivy League. Donations are drying up, prospective students are thinking of alternatives and TV comedians are having a field day. The same may happen here.

Ever since the 18th-century Enlightenment, universities have been synonymous with learning and progress. No longer. For the first time in nearly 300 years they have ceased to be reliable hallmarks of a civilised society.

Those who preside over them will rue failing to educate their students properly — then refusing to stand up to them when they spouted ignorant, nasty nonsense.